After many twists and turns, the roller coaster that is Jerie "Koko" Pingoy's basketball career has reached a new high. This time, he has full control of the direction he's headed.
A wave of emotions marked Pingoy's passage into the PBA on Sunday, when Phoenix erased all of the 26-year-old's uncertainties by drafting him with its No. 52 overall selection of the 46th Season Rookie Draft.
Pingoy understandably broke down in tears once Phoenix star Matthew Wright announced his name in the fifth round of the proceedings.
"I thought I wouldn't be called," Pingoy admitted. "I've waited years just to be drafted here in PBA. Those tears are pure happiness despite the struggles I faced from my years in UAAP."
Pingoy has endured countless trials and tribulations, but the draft posed an entirely different problem altogether. After receiving zero invites to work out with teams in the weeks leading up to the draft, all Pingoy could do was hope that the interest the Fuel Masters showed before the draft proper was real.
True enough, Phoenix seemed bent on giving him a chance to write this new chapter of his basketball journey on his own terms.
"I feel so glad and thankful that they gave me a chance to be drafted," he shared. "I almost felt so helpless because I thought I wouldn't be called. But God works in mysterious ways, so I just let Him work for me."
Phoenix head coach Topex Robinson said the rationale to take a gamble on Pingoy was pretty simple.
"Everybody deserves a chance," Robinson told ESPN5.com. "I'm blessed that I am the coach who is able to give him that opportunity, and I would be more blessed if he will be another success story that I was. That's what I want for him."
Robinson knows very well what it's like to be a success story. Before becoming one of Philippine basketball's best young coaches, Robinson was once a PBA player who sought for an opportunity to prove he can make it to the big league.
Two years after he was drafted by Tanduay in the third round with the 44th overall pick in the 2001 PBA Draft, Robinson made a roster for the first time with the Batang Red Bull Thunder under coach Yeng Guiao.
"The reason why I'm here right now is because somebody gave me an opportunity. That was coach Yeng back then. I want to be that guy also, the coach that would give others opportunity," Robinson said.
All Pingoy really needs is a chance to show that he still possesses the same level of potential that enamored schools when he was a phenom in high school, where his meteoric rise as a two-time UAAP juniors MVP with the FEU Baby Tamaraws triggered a series of events that would make him the scrappy, self-aware guard that he is today.
Pingoy made the move to Ateneo to start his collegiate career, but his transfer caused huge shockwaves, as the UAAP implemented what was later dubbed the "Pingoy Rule" -- a league mandate that requires high school transferees to redshirt for two years before being able to suit up for their college team.
"I've been a fan of him way, way back when he was playing high school basketball. And for you to have a rule to be named after you, that means you're something special. I've never come across a player like that. For a rule to be named after you, that means your good," said Robinson.
The rule was later junked after a Senate inquiry led to landmark legislation on student-athlete recruitment, but not before changing the trajectory of Pingoy's career permanently.
Pingoy still played for Ateneo, but he only lasted for one season with the Blue Eagles after failing to meet the academic quota. He later hit reset with Adamson, though that meant he had to sit out for one more year before finally getting to play under coach Franz Pumaren.
In his first year during Season 80, Pingoy flourished and averaged 7.5 points, 5.1 assists, 2.6 steals, and 2.5 rebounds per game. But in the following year, he dealt with a foot injury while splitting time with other Adamson guards and logged just 3.3 points, 2.3 assists and 1.9 assists.
After skipping Season 82, Pingoy went on to play for the CEU Scorpions in the PBA D-League but managed to play just two games in the 2020 Aspirants' Cup as the coronavirus pandemic shelved the rest of the season.
Other players in his position would carry a chip on their shoulder after going through such challenges, but Pingoy himself holds no contempt for his past. Although he's removed himself from the experiences of the past, all he sees now are lessons learned when he does look back from time to time.
"Right now I want to start a new chapter because I am already done dealing in my past. I am thankful for the lessons and experiences that I encountered," said Pingoy. "Now this is my chance to prove to everyone that I am still the Koko Pingoy during my high school days."
All that matters for Pingoy and Phoenix is the present and the future, where the chance to put everything further in the rearview mirror awaits.
"Whatever it is that happened in the past to where he is right now, it's done and over with. I will never judge him by what he did five years ago, four years ago, last year, or even yesterday. I'm never going to judge him for that. What's important to me is what's in front of him right now, and that's an opportunity," said Robinson.
Getting drafted is never a guarantee that a player will immediately step foot in a PBA game, which is why Robinson wants to temper expectations of Pingoy being the "steal" of the draft.
"That will depend on him. For him to be a steal, that means he's worked hard and he's proved everybody wrong," he said. "Will he make himself the steal of the draft? He's the one who's going to dictate the story that he wants for himself after everything has been said and done."
Robinson, however, believes in Pingoy's ability to write his own comeback story and understands how much work the guard put in -- especially pre-draft, when he changed his mind about quitting the game to whip himself back into shape.
"That's the story I want for him, and it's all going to be up to him," said Robinson. "I cannot guarantee him anything concrete right now, but the fact that I'm considering him means he still has an opportunity. He loves basketball -- he wouldn't go back if he doesn't love basketball."
Pingoy, for his part, is just eager to show off his growth while reminding everyone that he is still the budding star of the recent past.
"Right now, I am super hungry to show off my skills," he said. "I still play the Koko Pingoy way, and the only thing that I want them to know is that I'm getting better each day. I am so excited for my fans to see this new phase of Koko Pingoy."